James Melford "Mel" Gaither was one of the three Society Founders along with General Ridgely Gaither and Dr. William Gaither. Mel had spent years, with his wife Peggy, collecting and indexing Gaither family history, and was concerned with how it would preserved after his death. The result of their meeting at the General’s house in Annapolis was the founding of this Society.
Mel was born in Litchfield, Illinois in 1917 and passed away in 1987. He was the son of James Eugene and Ethel (Thomason) Gaither. After his mother died when Mel was two, the family moved back to Iredell, NC, where his grandparent lived. During World War II he landed on Omaha Beach and was later assigned to General Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army at the outset of the “Battle of the Bulge”. When wearing a general’s uniform and a polished helmet, he was a spitting image of General Patton and he enjoyed playing the part at many events, including his company’s Christmas parties. After the War, he, his Father and two partners started a Kenworth and GMC large truck dealership, which he became President of in 1953 and which had exclusive rights throughout North Carolina. He continued in that role until selling the business in 1977. After retirement, fortunately for us, Mel and his wife Peggy pursued Gaither genealogy on a full-time, full-bore basis. Mel must have followed the words of General Patton, "Live for something rather than die for nothing."
Mel was the kind of person who never met a man or woman he didn’t like - - and, that was particularly true about any Gaither! His charisma was a key force in the creation of our Society, and the powerful team of Mel, his wife Peggy, and Eva Thornberry was something to behold. Their dynamism is palpable in their correspondence on the “Gaither Disk” of family history, the collection of Mel's records.
When Mel died, Eva Thornberry wrote a tribute to him in the “Gaither Connection”, called “My Salute to You – Mel”. Eva shared what their friendship meant, saying that when he first phoned her 9 years prior, and said he “was going to find every Gaither who had ever lived in America even if it meant turning over all the tombstones to do so,” he made a believer out of her. And, Eva recalled how Mel and his wife Peggy took “safaris” across the country, tracking down Gaithers; making ‘cold calls’ to whatever Gaithers they found in the phone book - - perfect strangers; and how Mel, when he got his first computer, went amazingly ‘quiet’ while learning how to fill it with Gaithers and more Gaithers.
In 2015 at the time of this DSA honor, Peggy Gaither was 83 years old, still living in Hickory, NC, and mighty pleased that the Society was honoring her husband tonight. Although not able to attend that evening, she recorded the following message for all those honoring her husband.
Three decades later, Gaithers are still gathering just as Mel had hoped, taking care of his records, collecting more information. And, most of all, grateful for his tremendous efforts to bring Gaither family members together.